Can’t, Won’t, Shouldn’t

Like my friend Mallory Bower shared this week, when I was asked to give an Ignite-style talk at the NASPA Region II Confrence, I was not ready. Like many professionals, I’ve had plenty of experiences speaking publicly, but this was by far the most nervewracking.  I realized it wasn’t the format, the venue, or the presentation itself that scared me.  It was the mere fact that had been chosen for this opportunity, and I couldn’t possibly be worthy of this selection.  I feared the reactions from the audience, colleagues, and strangers alike.

What makes her an expert?

Why was she asked instead of me?

What makes her topic so important?

It made me think of all of those times that I was told I couldn’t do something.  “You’re too clumsy, you shouldn’t be using power tools” or “You won’t ever follow through on becoming a Jazzercise fitness instructor, it’s too hard”.  Too often we are told: “you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t do something” by authority figures and even friends in our lives.  This negativity coursing through my veins reminded me of this quote from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In:

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Think about all the times that fear of others holds you back.  Then stop thinking about them.  Think about all the times that the support of others empowers you.  So many positive examples have come up for me in the past few months, it’s hard to narrow them down.

-Meeting my fellow Instigate and Ruminate Speakers: I’m shouting them out again, but working with four amazing people (three of them women) including Mallory, Sue Caulfield, Suzanne Sullivan McGillicuddy, and Joe Ginese really taught me the support that can come from bonding over something incredibly stressful.  This support system has now developed into friendships.

The Summer 2014 Virtual Reciprocity Ring: Started by Amma Marfo, the SVRR brings together women from all over the country in multiple fields.  Each week, one woman pitches her idea or asks for support, and the rest of us provide that outlet.  Regardless of whether or not you post, the support coming from every woman is enough to lift you out of fear. Thanks, Amma.

-Long distance connections: Whether through phone, e-mail, or Google hangout, I have had some fantastic conversations with supportive ladies from all over the country about doctoral programs, the job search, what motivates us, and even just talking about refinishing furniture. Most of this is thanks to my taking the Twitter leap earlier this year and connecting through #sachat.

“Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both.”

It’s time to stop looking at what holds us back and start looking at what moves us forward.  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?


Robots, Creativity, & Confidence

“I’m not very creative.”  I cannot possibly count the number of times I have said or thought this statement in my lifetime. When asked on the spot for ideas, I often feel as though I don’t have anything unique enough to bring to the table and thus neglect to share.  I’ve been reflecting on the recent article about the confidence gap between men and women, and how this lack of confidence is detrimental to women’s success.  This particular quote stood out to me:

“Perfectionism is another confidence killer. Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required.”

I have experienced these perfectionist feelings constantly not only in my career, but my personal life as well, going through countless hobbies, DIY projects, even sports – just because I felt like I wasn’t good enough at them to be successful.  I held back on experiences because I wasn’t confident enough in my own abilities.

I’m here to challenge that today.  Since embarking on my DIY journey, I’ve used power tools, learned painting techniques, installed door hardware, hung frames, and more.  Starting a major creative project at home that doesn’t involve student development, service learning, or anything work-related, has made an incredible impact on my confidence in my work, at home or in the office.  As I was contemplating a blog post about this (and an awesome robot puzzle project, which I’ll get to in a second), I stumbled across this article about how being creative outside of work actually makes workers more productive, as well as provides them opportunities to restore and fulfill themselves. Researchers said this, which spoke to me:

“A lot of organizations carve time out where they talk about physical heath and exercise and eating habits, but they can also include in that a discussion of mental health and the importance of recovery and creative activity,” he said.

Physical health and exercise are both important.  However, I feel the need to ask: when do we make time to pursue our hobbies outside of fitness, especially if we spend all our spare time working?  How does this lack of creative work affect us, if these projects are making us more productive and more relaxed?  Shoutout to those writing books or creating art; it’s harder than it looks.  It has taken a lot of time and practice (about six months now) for me to develop confidence in my creative abilities, and this blog has been one of the best places for me to share my love for DIY, as well as express my professional opinions.  I can have a life outside of work, and it’s making me a better professional, a happier person, and an even better gift-giver. Let’s time travel to the moment I realized how important my creative outlet is to me.

About a week ago, I was shopping for a birthday present for a colleague of mine at Michaels.  I recognize that when shopping for a 26-year-old’s birthday gift, a craft store is not normally the first choice, but it’s my go-to for awesome finds.  I stumbled across this beauty for $1.20: a robot, alien, and superhero puzzle.


While I picked it up, I thought, “this is awesome – and cheap”, but I put it back on the shelf.  After a few minutes of perusing, a creative lightbulb turned on, and I thought about how great this would look in a frame mounted on my friend’s wall.  He has a love for superheroes and comics, and I have a love for personalized DIY projects, so this was a win-win.  A brief conversation with the custom framing staff taught me that it would be way too expensive and time consuming to wait for the perfect frame.  So, I scooped up a shadowbox, some Elmer’s glue, and went home to finish the job.


I was so proud to frame this puzzle and give it as a gift to someone who truly deserved to be the beneficiary of my creative process.  The next time I think to myself, “I’m not that creative”, I’m going to think of this puzzle and how robots gave me confidence (aww, I’m such a cheesy nerd).


What are your creative activities outside of work? I’d love to hear about them and how they’ve impacted you as a person or as a professional.




Progress Report: Peace, “Do”, and Happiness

It’s been 100 days since 2014 kicked off, so I thought it was time to dust off the old #oneword2014 resolution and check in on my own progress on the word “do”.  To be honest, I didn’t handle the resolution process with much precision.  I totally forgot to use my SMART goals acronym, not to mention that  I have a habit of making great sweeping statements and not following through on them.  Self-deprecating aside, I’m trying my best to break that habit, and succeeding pretty well with my resolution (unlike my addiction to diet soda).

Progress Report #1:  I know that it’s been 100 days of this year because I am currently almost finished with the #100happydays photo project on Instagram.  Not only that, but I blogged about it on, wrote an article for The Jersey Alliance, and presented it to my students as a personal challenge for them to attempt.  I missed just two days, only to immediately post two photos the following day.  #100happydays has actually given me something to be proud of, and it’s helped to put my name out there as a blogger and overall advocate for something positive.  It hasn’t been easy, and one day was particularly painful, but it was all made better with a Brene Brown quote and some self-reflection.  The photo challenge has probably been the most telling action of my entire “do” resolution.  In fact, I’m not stopping. I’m going for a full 365 days of happiness photos.

Progress Report #2: For other measurements related to “do”, I created this website and have written 13 blog posts this year (woot!).  While the blogging has been fulfilling for me personally, I have been struggling with it professionally and debating its future direction.  When I post about professional development, I find myself stretching to make a connection or feel strangely disingenuous. Honestly, I’m just not sure if it’s truly me.  I can’t say if this blog will really move in the direction of student affairs, or move somewhere else – towards DIY, personal development, or more reflections on happiness.  I’ve found that I cannot continue to compare this blog to others.  I should be celebrating other bloggers’ success, all while realizing that I am not the same as them.  I have my own voice, and maybe that voice wants to talk a LOT about The Goonies and cats.  That’s just the way it is.


Progress Report #3: Lastly, in the spirit of “do” something completely outside my comfort zone, I found peace through service in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I have participated in five Alternative Breaks trips all over the United States, but I have never traveled somewhere completely unfamiliar without a student or fellow staff member that I knew well.  It was terrifying. I tossed and turned on our first night, struggling to find the calm to allow me to sleep.  On our first night of reflection, I cried.  Yes, me, the staff partner – I cried.  I decided to admit my anxiety about traveling alone, eating camp food dinners, and sharing a cabin with strangers. I shared with my students that I, too, am uncomfortable and suffer from self-doubt that nags me, especially when I’m alone.  The results of opening up to my students extended beyond my wildest expectations: I found a group of the 12 most open, engaged, and accepting students that I have ever worked with (we call this trip “magical”) and felt real, true peace through community service efforts.  Not just comfort, but peace, feeling a sense of community that I had not felt in so long.

Laying that all out on the table, I’d say it’s been a pretty good 2014 so far.  I’m excited to see where the next few months take me (Norway! California! Age 28!).  Have you made any progress on resolutions, or had the time to pause to reflect on your progress?  I’d love to hear about it.

Finding Your Breakfast Club

Yesterday’s blog post by Joe Ginese inspired me to think critically about my conference experience. You mean I can’t change all of my bad habits and take hundreds of risks in one day? I definitely have the conference hangover, with my head bursting at the seams fr0m excitement, but it’s not necessarily because of all the great sessions I attended. It’s because of the people I met.

That got me thinking: ACPA was my Breakfast Club this year. Sure, I love comparing my life to 80’s teen movies more than the average student affairs blogger, but hear me out. I was able to meet four amazing student affairs professionals from Twitter who I had never previously met, and they all had a huge impact on me. Just as the burnout, princess, jock, nerd, and basket case from Shermer High School built their connections during detention, I befriended a unique group of student affairs professionals in a short amount of time.  Relationships at a conference are created in an intense environment with few distractions; it’s up to you to maintain them (and not ignore them next year when you’re walking down the hall). Here are my shoutouts, and plans for reconnecting.

The Supporter: Chris Conzen has provided me with encouragement, asked me questions, and gone above and beyond to connect with me.  If I’m ever questioning my job trajectory or looking for advice about moving around in the field, Chris will be my go-to person.

The Jersey Girl: Valerie Heruska and I connected over completely random things like diners, Jimmy Eat World, and New Jersey pop culture. After dinner together, I know I can talk to her about anything and I’ll be cracking up in the process.

The Newbie: Francesca Catalano and I went into our ACPA adventures together as relatively new to the Twitter world, but we took risks together and bonded over that experience.  If I’m ever feeling unsure or anxious about a blog post (or anything really), I know Francesca will be there for me, judgment-free and understanding.

The Role Model: Josie Ahlquist showed me that I can do something different with my student affairs career, and I shouldn’t be afraid to take something and make it my own.  Her openness to sharing her experience while pursuing a doctorate put me completely at ease about taking that step in my career.

It can be beneficial to engage a variety of strategies to stay connected with my new Breakfast Club. It’s important for you to understand the best way to communicate with your new connections, so ask first. Here are some general tips to get you started:

Social media: Is Twitter their jam? Publicly tweeting back can help keep up the relationship, but it doesn’t get you quite as far as a direct message. I’ve found that Facebook friending takes you further as well, especially with the more personal details being shared beyond 140 characters.  If digging deeper personally isn’t the right move, then LinkedIn can be a great way to learn more about them professionally.

E-Mail: Did you meet your new contact at a session and exchange business cards? Don’t let them sit unused in your nametag pouch or at the bottom of your bag. E-mail them now! Reach out with a specific question or connection to keep the conversation going.

Google Hangout: I love Tim St. John’s idea to road trip via Google Hangout. It’s free and gets you face-to-face time with your new connections. Schedule a lunchtime chat or maybe set aside an evening to delve deeper. If face-to-face isn’t your thing, a phone call can do the trick as well.

In response to Simple Minds’ question, “As I walk on by, will you call my name?” I can safely say the answer is yes. It just takes some long term effort that follows the conference afterglow.  Now that you’ve learned about my connections at ACPA, I’d like to know: who have you met and connected with in your recent conference travels? Who would be in your Breakfast Club?

The Artful Krista

I’ve been suffering from a disease I like to call blankwallitis.  As a novice DIYer, every single blank wall seems to be taunting me, waiting for a picture, poster, shelf, or piece of art to be hung.  Our guest room/office has been looking a little bare for the past three years that we’ve been living here, so I thought that would be a good space to start.


I have a lot of art.  This is just a sampling of the Ikea prints I bought on a whim. (How can you beat a price of $10 for five prints?  You can’t.)  I’ve been hoarding postcards, colored paper, fabric, and even customized art for years since we’ve been living here.  While I love the colors and the fact that they’re adorable abstract designs of woodland mammals, none of these small postcards really said “focal point of the room” to me.  So out came the big guns.


For our wedding, we received an amazing print from a friend that explains our relationship perfectly.  Engineering: where the man tells his wife he loves her by building it out of blocks.  I tried to seek out art that would compliment the engineering print, coupled with this awesome poster that I bought from The Wire Poster Project.   For all my Wire fans out there, you’ll recognize this quote from Omar.  All proceeds from this poster design company go to the Baltimore Urban Debate League, so it’s a really awesome business with a social cause.  Lastly, based on the orange and yellow color scheme, I found a fun New York City print (close to our hearts!) on Etsy from Albie Designs which brought all the colors together.

I still wasn’t convinced that these three pieces meshed well together (Clueless, anyone?). I realized it was time to bring all of my whimsical art purchases together.  After playing around, I came up with this arrangement – and don’t worry, Omar’s wisdom will find its place somewhere.



I actually cut up a blank, chevron-printed card from the clearance bin at Michaels and framed it to bring all the colors together.  I also couldn’t resist the adorable Ikea bunny print.  When it came time to hang the art above our couch, I cut pieces of paper in the shapes of each frame and hung them, centered over the couch.  Enter Dan’s quip: “This means we can never move the couch.”

Art4                    Art7

After a few test runs, we knew this was the right fit.  Just imagining guests staying over, even if we change the couch into a real guest bed, made me giddy.  I just love adding some fun into a room.  The smallest touch can make a big difference.  Just call me the Artful Krista.

The Styrofoam Cup: Reflections from Leaders Eat Last

Last week, I was at home while my students ran an event on campus.  I had spent a significant amount of time dedicated to my marketing committee, both in and outside of work hours, discussing with them how to promote this event through social media.  After the event ended, I noticed that social media was silent: they had forgotten to make their posts, a simple task that I had invested my time and energy into ensuring would happen.  I took matters into my own hands and made the posts myself, typing furiously on my bed at 10pm.  My frustration mounted, my chest tightened, and I spent the next day venting to anyone who would listen.  I became all-consumed with my work and my event.

Shortly after the Social Media Crisis of 2014, I was in the process of live-tweeting my current read, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.  I came across a story about a former Under Secretary of Defense who spoke at a large conference.  The former Under Secretary revealed that the previous year, when he was still in office, was flown to the conference in business class, escorted to his hotel room, and treated to a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug.  When he no longer held the position, he flew to the conference in coach, drove himself to the hotel, and poured himself coffee into a styrofoam cup.  Then came the part of the story that just jumped off the page and slapped me in the face.

“‘It occurs to me,’ he continued, ‘the ceramic cup they gave me last year…it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup. This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,’ he offered. ‘All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which you eventually will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a styrofoam cup.”

At work, I’ve been called a “woman on a mission”, so mired in details that I’ve missed out on meaningful moments with students.  I’ve neglected doctor’s appointments, given myself anxiety (see above chest pains), and snapped at countless friends/family members over my job, and for what?  The former Under Secretary is right: whether we want to admit it or not, we are all replaceable.  We all deserve styrofoam cups.  I spend countless hours dwelling on the all-important community service event (granted, community service can have a great impact on students, as all of our work can have) without even regarding my own health or happiness.  Not only that, but I do my students a disservice as I toil away on tasks they could learn, generating a catering order or drafting a reflection workshop.


As a student affairs professional, my goal is for my students to do amazing things for Community Service at Rutgers, not me.  It’s not my work and my event.  It’s their work, and they should celebrate their successes and analyze their failures (with my support).  My students are the ones who should be in the spotlight, giving amazing Ignite-style talks at conferences, being quoted in the campus newspaper, and drinking from their ceramic mugs.  It’s their precious and exploratory four years to pave their way into a career, not mine.

As one of my great friends put it, “If we’re doing our jobs right, no one will even know we are there.”  I tend to agree.  I’m shifting the spotlight over to them.  After all, I am only in the background watching them shine, drinking from a styrofoam cup.

Window Shopping

Ever the procrastinator, I’ve had a major DIY project brewing since spring break of 2012.  It all started when I was working on a house with 12 amazing students in Ansted, West Virginia on a service trip for Rutgers University Alternative Breaks.  Aren’t we a good looking group?


While rebuilding, I came across a diamond in the rough that I had only previously seen on Pinterest: an old window.  If you’re a frequent pinner or DIY aficianado, you know what I’m talking about: repurposing an old window with fabric, colored paper, and photos to turn it into a gorgeous picture frame.  I was determined to take this baby home and turn it into a masterpiece, so I packed it up into our Suburban and brought it back to New Jersey.  Little did I know that this window would sit in my basement, untouched amidst hundreds of other wedding-related projects.

A year later, I finally brought the window out of hiding. I set it up in the garage on a jawhorse and used WD-40 to remove all the residue and dirt from the panes.  This took a lot more elbow grease than I was expecting (meaning: I need to work out more).  The window was already missing a piece of the pane, but I thought it added to the charm and rustic feeling of the project.


Next, I ordered 8×10 photo prints to place inside each of the four intact panes.  I chose Mpix after reading reviews about their quality and price, but I’m sure that Snapfish or Shutterfly would work too.  Four large prints came out to $12 and I paired them with several 4×6 prints from the wedding to make a collage.


 Dan and I also had to decide what kind of material we would use for the mats.  Fabric, cardstock, and linen paper were all options that came to mind.  Given that our wedding was nautical-themed, I came up with the idea to use cork as a mat for each photo.  I bought some 8 1/2×11 cork sheets from Michaels for 99 cents each and laid out a few options on the floor.

After unsuccessfully attempting to back the cork with cardboard we had lying around the house, we decided to use foam core ($4 from Michaels, with a 40% off coupon) as the backing behind the cork sheets.  After carefully measuring and re-measuring the space between each pane, we decided to use Elmer’s glue and a roller to adhere the cork sheets to the foam board.


Next, we laid out the photos to be centered within each pane.  They needed to be centered on each cork sheet, but more importantly, they had to be centered within each pane itself.  So we would lift the frame over the foam core to check that our measurements were correct.  Here’s Dan laying out some of the photos.


We soon realized that it was nearly impossible to accurately measure each pane separately, and we ended up having to scrap the entire project and start over.  Ahh, the life of a DIYer-in-training.  We carefully unpeeled all of the photos and Dan bought a full sheet of cork from Amazon for about $11.  This time, we only had to measure out the spacing of the photos and just adhered the entire cork sheet to the foam core board. Much better.  The photos were glued down smoothly as well. As for our finished product?  It’s mounted proudly above the fireplace.


The window frame came in at about $33 for all the materials and photos, not including what we already owned.  Just call me the DIY Queen, with Dan as my loyal blacksmith (I’m only kidding, he did a LOT of the work on this project). The craftstravaganza was definitely worth it as we now have a one-of-a-kind focal point for our living room!